The first thing that popped into my head was, of course, a children’s book. I wrote this post years ago, and it is as poignant today as ever.
“Katy and the Big Snow”, by Virginia Lee Burton is a classic children’s book that continues to be beloved today. After two major snow storms this week, it was the perfect read. The book never gets old, children always find something new. This week was no exception. Frankly, the book exploded into unexpected learning about a compass, geography, a yard stick, and more.
It happened like this…
As we enjoyed reading the first page, I had an epiphany. The border depicts all the trucks that belong to the highway department. A border. Wait a minute- the only other author that does that in her books is Jan Brett. Of course; Jan Brett must have read “Katy and the Big Snow” when she was young and been inspired. I felt like a child in school who “got it”. This was exciting!
We stopped to pull out “The Mitten” and “Three Snow Bears.” They were different, yet the same; different because Jan Brett’s borders in her books are clues to the next page, the same because the borders in “Katy and the Big Snow” detail the story. It took a long time to finish reading the first page.
A few pages later a child said, “There’s a compass.” Sure enough, a compass is featured throughout the book. Our “Big Book Atlas of the World” has a compass on each page, and we often talk about north, south, east, and west. Understanding the geography of the town is key to Katy’s snow plowing in the story. But wait, this compass is different!
North is not pointing to the top, and there are eight main points, not four. Quick thinking was necessary to seize this moment. While I didn’t have a compass in the classroom (now I will), I had one on my phone. We huddled together to look at the compass, and it was moving. So, we spread out like a group of scouts on an expedition, walking around the classroom, finding north and more.
Back to the book’s compass, I asked children as I pointed, “If this is north and this is east, what is this (the smaller arrow)?” Shouts of “Northeast!” came from everywhere, and with that momentum we identified all the points.
Then came the page with only words:
A strong wind came up and drifts began to form… one foot…. two feet….. three feet…… five feet…….. The snow reached the first story windows………. the second story windows…………
The children seemed to understand that more dots in the text meant more snow. As I read the words I held my hand above the floor to the approximate height, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to show children how much snow is two feet, etc. A yard stick to the rescue. I use this in my classroom more than I use a ruler. Young children need big! I could show them one foot, two feet, three feet. They got it- a lot of snow!
This is everybody’s favorite page, especially after measuring with a yardstick. It puts a visual as to how much snow we measured, and beyond:
So, Katy plowed out the roads in each location, north, south, east and west. She helped the police, the schools, the airport, and of course the fire department.
The story does not end here. Learning and enthusiasm isn’t a switch that turns on and off. It grows. Today we looked at our new foot of snow and a child said, “It looks like “Katy and the Big Snow.” Yes, it did. So, we went outside without coats, and with our trusty yardstick in hand to measure the snow.
The snow was 16 inches high. We went back inside and measured each other, the tables and chairs. Everyone wanted to find 16 inches. Children understood how that number on the yardstick measured the snow, and they wanted to measure, and measure again. They understood that 16 was more than just a number. In the eyes of the children 16 represented something concrete- eureka! It clicked. Boy, it was exciting to find 16 inches.
This is emergent curriculum at its best. That means something sparks the interest of children, and a teacher builds upon it. The most important learning, things that stick and are the foundation for more learning come from the children. Math, science, geography, literacy, art… the list is a long one, and is greatly enhanced through emergent curriculum. Katy and the Big Snow is a perfect example.
Oh, how I love reading-aloud and the windows that open to learning!